Creed is a testament not only to the power of formula, but the importance of execution.
Creed is basically Rocky 7, but tells the story of Adonis Johnson (Played by Michael B. Jordan), the son of Apollo Creed, with Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) transitioning into the Mickey role. I won’t go into the details of Adonis’s upbringing, but I will say that the movie finds a way to strike a balance where he’s still relatable, while still being the child of the most famous boxer ever. Something it needs to pull off because despite his lineage he still needs to be the underdog. This is still a Rocky movie after all, and by “a Rocky movie” I really just mean that this is the first Rocky again.
This a reboot that’s not a reboot. A fresh start and a sequel. All the Rocky movies are really just Rocky again, with varying degrees of variation and success. This franchise has one story to tell, but because it’s such a good universal story, it’s worth telling again. It works on many of the same levels as a comic book franchise, which are no stranger to the idea of legacy heroes. Those are some of my favorite comic book stories, and the premise of Creed immediately appeals to me on that same level. It allows for a kind of clean slate and a re-examining of what’s actually key to the hero, without wiping out the history and struggle that came along the way. At its best it’s a move that enriches the fiction for older fans, while still opening things up to become fresh again.
It would be one thing for Michael B. Jordan and writer/director Ryan Coogler to have made a boxing movie about a character like Adonis Johnson on their own. The two previously collaborated on the film Fruitvale Station (Which was based on the true story of Oscar Grant III, who was fatally shot by a police on New Years Day 2009) which clearly showed that the two have serious filmmaking chops and I’m sure that they could have found a way to make it work. But the key to this movie, is Sylvester Stallone’s willingness to become vulnerable and allow the character of Rocky to be a mentor figure rather than the star. That the movie has that additional part, and that Stallone’s performance is truly great, is what makes this movie great. This is a franchise movie that uses its history as an asset, instead of allowing it to drag it down.
The absence of Paulie or an equivalent character is a plus. The romance is cute and touching, it does its job effectively for the plot and actress Tessa Thompson is compelling all on her own. More importantly the boxing here is really good, which is something a lot of the Rocky movies don’t really nail.
It’s not perfect. Adonis’s final opponent, played by actual boxer Tony Bellew, just can’t compare to Carl Weathers performance of Apollo Creed. This is the seventh movie in this franchise so we know how this is all going to play out to the letter. That adds up to a finale that doesn’t hit as hard as the original’s but the fact that it demands comparison specifically to the original is another indicator of how much this movie gets right. (And it’s still pretty great.)
Creed is the kind of movie that makes me want sequels and follow ups. It makes what could have just been baggage into an asset, telling a story that’s more full and nuanced because of how it works from the material that was there previously. This is a follow up that was made not because of studio mandate, but because the people involved had the inspiration and motivation to make it happen, because they believed it was worth it. That”s the core of the Rocky story, and it’s a story worth telling again and again as long as you tell it right.